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FOURTEENTH I IE P( )RT
Custody and Condition
Parishes, Towns, and Counties,
ITlflTED ST A'-
By ROBERT T. SWAN, Commissioner.
WRIGHT & POTTER PRINTING CO., STATE PRINTERS,
18 Post Office Square.
Crrmmontotfrfijjr af l|assaxjnis*tts.
Office of the Commissioner of Public Records,
State House, Boston, Jan. 1, 1902.
To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives.
I have the honor to submit the tenth report of this com-
mission, being the fourteenth in the series of reports on the
The act providing for the appointment of a Commissioner of
Public Eecords requires that the commissioner shall report to
the Legislature in each year the results of his labors, with
such recommendations and suggestions as may seem important
for the safety and benefit of the records. The results of his
labors cannot be summed up annually, as several years of labor
have been required to bring about some of the results, but it
can be stated generally that there has been a great improve-
ment in everything relating to the safety and benefit of the
records. Some detailed results, and some recommendations,
are presented under their respective headings.
Terms of City Clerks.
The statement that several years of labor are required to bring
about certain results is verified by the fact that it has taken
eleven years to make it possible for cities to elect their clerks
for terms of three years. That twenty-seven of the thirty-
three cities have accepted the act authorizing such elections,
by a total majority of nearly two to one, is a most important
result, as it will check a tendency, which was growing, toward
making the office political, to be contested annually, and will
serve notice on those who w r ould bring the county recording
officers into politics that sentiment is against it. The commis-
sioner has always urged that the cities and towns be put upon
the same basis as the counties, and that the election of the re-
4 PUBLIC KECORDS. [Jan.
cording officers in the cities and towns for long terms be re-
quired, not merely authorized, but the popular approval of the
act of authorization may have a better result than if the Legis-
lature alone had passed upon it, and the cities which have re-
jected it may come into line with popular opinion.
The following are the only cities which rejected the act :
Beverly, Lowell, Marlborough, Northampton, Quincy, and
It is greatly to be regretted that Quincy and Lowell are
among the number. Under the system, peculiar to Quincy, of
having the clerk appointed by the mayor, the office has been
purely political, changing with the party. In the twelve years
during which Quincy has been a city there have been four
clerks. In Lowell there is usually a contest. Between the
years 1882, when the clerk who had held the office thirteen
years died, and 1895, there were five changes, with no election
in 1893, when the incumbent held over. On the other hand,
it is a satisfaction that Lawrence and Pittsfield have accepted
the act. The offices there have been political, with frequent
changes and bitter contests, complicated with other municipal
matters, and the clerks have never felt sure of continuing in
office long enough to do all they might desire for the benefit of
Terms of Town Clerks.
The advocacy of three-year terms for town clerks has at last
resulted in the adoption by the Legislature of the soundness of
the arguments in favor of the principle by its authorizing such
terms, but the act relating to the matter has thus far received
little attention. Whereas the act relating to cities required a
vote upon its acceptance, the towns are to vote if they see fit,
and few citizens are enough interested to ask for action. The
clerks naturally will not suggest it, although knowing the ben-
efit to be derived. Then, too, the act contained a provision
that the clerk may be chosen " clerk of such offices, boards, and
departments of the town as the town may determine by vote."
This is not only superfluous, as the several boards may choose
the clerk or whomsoever they please clerk of their boards, but
it has been construed to mean that a clerk chosen for three
years under the act must be clerk of the boards, and that is not
1902.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52.
always practicable. Grafton was the first town to accept, the
Arguments in favor of long terms for the clerks hav<
often been set forth during the past eleven years that it 'Iocs
not seem worth while to repeat them, but it is more important
that the term should be along one in the towns than in the
cities, for two reasons. In the cities the records have an
abiding place, which is the clerk's office. In the towns the
clerk's records go from place to place with each change of
clerks, with unnecessary wear and liability of loss, and no
suitable permanent place is provided. In the cities the clerk-,
have assistants conversant with the work and competent to
keep up the routine, while in the towns no one but the clerk
has knowledge of the records or duties.
The passage of the following act offered last year is again
urged : —
An Act fixing the Terms op Office of Town Clerks.
Section 1. Iu the year nineteen hundred and three, and every
third year thereafter, there shall be elected, by the voters at the
annual meeting in each town, a town clerk, to hold his office for three
years from the day of his election.
Section 2. Every such clerk shall hold his office until the election
or appointment and qualification of his successor, unless sooner re-
moved by due process of law.
Section 3. When a vacancy shall occur in the office of town
clerk, the person elected or appointed to fill the vacancy shall hold
the office until the end of the unexpired term of the person last hold-
ing the office.
Section 4. Section three hundred and thirty-five of chapter eleven
of the Revised Laws, and all acts and parts of acts inconsistent here-
with, are hereby repealed.
Section 5. This act shall take effect upon its passage.
Increased attention has been given during the year to bind-
ing records needing expert treatment. Towns where no dis-
position to take action appeared have had their attention called
to the statute requirement, and the binding of their records
has been insisted upon.
6 PUBLIC RECORDS. [Jan.
Under the discretionary power given the commissioner,
binding has been paid for from his appropriation for some of
the towns where the cost would have been a burden, or where
it seemed unjust to compel a small town to pay for binding the
records pertaining to a large part of its former territory, now
comprised in other towns.
Binding by the Emery process has been done during the
year for several of the county offices, where more or less of it
has before been done from time to time, and for the following
forty-two towns : Athol, Barnstable, Barre, Becket, Belling-
ham, Bernardston, Brbokline, Cohasset, Dartmouth, Douglas,
Duxbury, Essex, Greenfield, Hadley, Hatfield, Holden, Hub-
bardston, Manchester, Middleborough, Monson, Otis, Ox-
ford, Peru, Phillipston, Provincetown, Rochester, Royalston,
Sandwich, Savoy, Sharon, Southampton, Stockbridge, Stowe,
Sudbury, Sunderland, Warwick, Wendell, Wenham, West-
field, Westminster, Windsor, and Wrentham.
As an example of what can be done with mutilated records
illustrations are given of the first volume of the records of
Stockbridge, one representing the book in the condition when
found a few years ago, and two showing pages of the record
after binding in silk.
Among the records bound at considerable expense were four
very dilapidated volumes of the records of the Proprietors of
Rochester, containing the original lay out of lands in the terri-
tory now included in Rochester, Marion, Mattapoisett, and
part of Wareham. That Rochester should bear the whole
expense of binding these did not seem equitable, but as there
was no way in which the cost could be divided, it was paid
from the appropriation for this commission.
As the proprietors' records appropriately belong in the
registries of deeds, and the State has paid for putting these in
condition for preservation, it would seem advisable and proper
that these be placed in the registry of deeds at Plymouth,
where they can be accessible to persons interested in estates
in either of the towns. About five hundred plans of lands
recorded in these volumes, which will be put in form for pres-
ervation and reference, could also be placed there.
Plate 1.- First Volume of the Records of Stockbridge.
'Mt/teZb fa***, /iu^ fL«^ <K^r Ma. &TTA ** Aij£~-
/Li *W«*> »**4?Jsd**#L % Me+cee A^n^tf &J*£tj 9n+ /r <t£/^
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Plate 2. — A Page of Stockbridge Records after Binding.
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. ■ ' *-, ,^-c >*.,..**? Mv**:^ '*■/<■ ?> rtf****/*-
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Plate 3. — A Page of Stockbridge Records after Binding.
1902,] PUBLIC DOCUMENT— No.
The statute provides for the recovery of public records m
private custody, but there are instances where certain records
are held by a custodian of public records, under a supposed or
doubtful right. This has occurred in some places where, at
the time of a division of a town, the records were in a part of
the town embraced in the new town. This has resulted in the
commencing of new records in both towns at the time of
division, and the retaining of the old records in the new town.
In other cases, records formerly kept by a county officer at
his home have drifted into a town office, and have come to
be considered the town property, though properly belonging
to the county.
The records of old Norfolk County are widely scattered,
having apparently remained where they happened to be at the
time of the dissolution of the county. By acts of the New
Hampshire Legislature in 1897 that State has taken jurisdiction
of all the public records of the county found in the State, and
they have been placed in the State Library at Concord. These
are mostly records originally kept in Portsmouth or Dover,
those pertaining to matters mostly in the southern part of the
county apparently having remained in Massachusetts.
One volume of these was found by the commissioner with the
records of Salisbury, and contains a record of the births, mar-
riages, and deaths in Amesbury, Exeter, Hampton, Haverhill,
and Salisbury from 1670 to 1747, and a record of deeds in
1691 and 1692. This was in a very dilapidated condition and
was bound in silk without expense to Salisbury, and it would
seem proper that it should be with similar records in the office
of the clerk of the courts at Salem.
In the office of the city clerk of Salem is a volume originally
containing, according to the title-page, the births, marriages,
and deaths in Salem, Lynn, Gloucester, and Wenham, returned
to the clerk of the courts at Salem, from 1637 to 1711. The
Wenham record has been torn out. This is one of a series of
the county records and should be placed in the clerk's office.
Beverly, Danvers, Lynnfield, Manchester, part of Middleton,
Nahant, Peabody, Kockport, Saugus, and Swampscott were
8 PUBLIC KECOEDS. [Jan.
originally in the territory covered by the record, and their
citizens are entitled to find the record in the county office.
The records of Eastham to the time of the setting off of
Orleans in 1797 have been kept in Orleans, having been in that
part of the town at the time of division. Several of these
volumes were in a dilapidated condition, and have been bound
by the commissioner from his appropriation, it being unjust to
require either Eastham or Orleans to bear the expense, and
impossible to have it divided between those towns and Well-
fleet, also interested. Under the circumstances it would seem
proper that the records when bound should be deposited in the
parent town, Eastham.
The records of Tyringham to the time of the setting off of
Monterey in 1847 are in Monterey. Some of these need
expert binding, for which Monterey would not wish to pay,
and which it would be unfair to require of Tyringham unless
the records were deposited there. Many of the records of
Adams, prior to the setting off of North Adams in 1878, are
at North Adams.
There are other instances where records are not in the town
whose name they bear, and it seems advisable that there should
be some legislation by which all records formerly belonging to
a county or town should be transferred to their original custody.
The passage of the following act is recommended : —
An Act for transferring Certain Public Records to their
Section 1. All public records of the county of Norfolk prior to
1681, which shall be found within this Commonwealth, shall be de-
posited in the office of the clerk of the courts in the county of Essex.
Section 2. Any public records, except those mentioned in the
foregoing section, deposited elsewhere than in an office in the county,
city, or town to which they respectively originally belonged, shall be
kept in the custody of the person having the custody of similar rec-
ords in such original county, city, or town.
Section 3. Whoever under the provision of this act is to become
the custodian of any of the records mentioned in this agt shall de-
mand the same from any person in whose possession they may be,
and he shall forthwith deliver the same to him.
Section 4. Whoever refuses or neglects to perform any duty re-
1902.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. 9
quired of him by this act shall be punished by a fine of not more than
Section 5. All acts or parts of acts inconsistent herewith an
Section 6. This act shall take effect upon its passage.
The statute requires " fair and legible copies thereof season-
ably made " whenever records are becoming worn, mutilated,
or illegible, and it is a part of the duty of the commissioner to
see that the statute is enforced. It is not enforced because
under existing circumstances it cannot be. Persons competent
to make accurate copies are very few, and a poor copy is worse
than none, as the copy is usually used, and the errors are ac-
cepted as the original record.
In a few of the cities and towns, where the clerk is reasonably
sure of continuing in office, copying is being carried on under
the direction of a clerk who appreciates the value of a good
copy, and is giving personal attention to it, but the custom has
been for the copying to be entrusted to a person willing to do
it for a stipulated price, and no further attention has been
given to it.
Many copies have not been certified and have no legal
weight. The result has been worthless copies and mutilated
The statement that competent copyists are very few is ques-
tioned, as a good penman is generally supposed to be com-
petent to copy, but copyists of records should possess the
following qualifications, and such are few : be able to read the
ancient alphabet if the records are written in that hand, and
have a faculty of reading difficult writing of whatever date ;
understand double dating ; be familiar with ancient phraseol-
ogy, and technical or colloquial words ; know ancient Christian
names and local surnames ; and, above all, have sufficient un-
derstanding of the general subject of the records to know how
to solve doubts by the relation which various entries may bear
to each other, and to know that any writing or marking on
original records is a species of mutilation.
That copies have been very generally made by persons lack-
10 PUBLIC RECOKDS. [Jan.
ing in these qualifications is best shown by specific statements.
In one instance the copyist destroyed the original. Copyists
have checked with ink every item copied, the check mark some-
times obliterating a faint letter or figure ; entries have been
crossed out after being copied ; the word ' * copied " has been
written across original entries ; indistinct letters and figures
have been written over to make them distinct, but really
changing them ; " wrong, see page — for duplicate," has been
written when there was no evidence which entry was correct,
yet the copy contains but one ; pages or parts of pages that
were difficult to read, or seemed unimportant, have been marked
" not copied," but no mention of the omission appeared in the
copy. (In one town the record of the names of representa-
tives was omitted, the record of the Legislature having been
Egregious and senseless errors have been made in the at-
tempt to solve doubtful words, or to make sense of a sentence
after a doubtful word has been wrongly copied. Failure to
discover for what a wrongly spelled word was intended, and
copying it as something entirely different, and omitting or sub-
stituting capitals according to modern usage, have been com-
mon errors and have utterly changed the meaning. Copying
but one of the dates of a double date has made records worse
than useless, illegitimatizing births.
Some examples of what have been found in copies, together
with puzzling words and entries in originals, with which copy-
ists are liable to have to contend, are presented to give force to
the foregoing. The original entry is first given, followed by the
translation : are — heir; gine (copied give) — join ; natcher —
Nashua ; Leietement — illegitimate ; a gorned — adjourned ;
graniaryman — grand-jury-man ; hole of the rats — whole of
the rates (taxes); the aplus — Theophilus ; Brer — Beriah;
sale — Sally ; chicken — Chickering ; macarrel — McCarrell ;
gorg lorance — George Lawrence ; Cornell Quinser — Colonel
Quincy ; winesenite — Wednesday night.
Serious mistakes have been made by copying as the surname
the occupation of a man, which was often added as a distinguish-
ing term, or of misreading a word, as in the following cases :
. . . Clarck — intended for clerk, but copied as the surname
1902.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. ll
Clark; . . . glover — copied Glover; Danill Billings Smith
— Daniel Billings, " ye blacksmith" (mentioned later) ; . . .
and Abigail Ballard ware published — copied Abigail Ballard
Ware; . . . and Hannah Coles Boath of . . . — copied Han-
nah Coles Booth.
Illustrations without number could be presented, but the
foregoing should be sufficient to establish the fact that any
general copying of the records, excepting under expert super-
vision, would be worse than useless.
Public Record Office.
The statute requires the commissioner to report "such
recommendations and suggestions as may seem important for
the safety and benefit " of the records. The recommendation
that a public record office be established would be useless, ;t
being such a radical departure from present methods, and one
involving so much first cost, but as the absolute safety for, and
full benefit of, the public records cannot be secured without it,
the suggestion is made that some investigation be instituted
to ascertain the sentiment in the cities and towns regarding the
depositing of their early records, to a date to be determined,
in such an office. If the prevailing sentiment were against it
further pursuit of the subject would be useless ; otherwise the
matter might receive serious consideration.
Existing conditions are in general as follows, although some
of the cities and towns are giving their records proper care.
All the cities and towns now have safes or vaults. If safes
they are sufficient for the more important records, but not for
minor ones, nor for the files that are required to be preserved.
Moreover, a safe which the commissioner finds, at the time of
inspection, sufficient security for the records in the building
where it then is, may almost immediately be moved into
another, the burning of which would probably damage, if not
destroy, the records.
If a vault has been built either a part or all of the records
are in it, according to its location. If located conveniently for
the clerk and most of the town officers it will contain all the
records, otherwise the records are in various places. If the
clerk has office hours, and the care of the vault, it is opened
12 PUBLIC RECORDS. [Jan.
daily, and is therefore dry, but as a rule the vaults are not
opened oftener than weekly, when the selectmen meet, and in
some towns they are never opened except when something
therein is wanted, or more likely something is to be stored
there. The consequence is that most of the vaults are damp,
and in many the mould is thick and bindings are dropping off.
In many, the Massachusetts Term Reports and the series of
Public Documents have been stored, when they absorb mois-
ture, making it impossible to dry the vaults. (The word
" stored" is used advisedly, as they are usually piled in with-
out regard to arrangement, and it is universal testimony that
they are never consulted.) The suggestion is always made
that they be taken out. Trunks and chests filled with ancient
files, and sometimes containing records supposed to be lost,
are found in the vaults, the papers in the bottoms having
decayed from dampness.
The earliest volumes of the records contain everything
which was to be made a matter of record, — town meetings,
births, marriages, deaths, ear marks, valuation lists, stray
beasts, etc. These are not indexed, making them of little
value for reference in their present condition. If copies have
been made, they are, as has been more fully set forth, more
than likely to be inaccurate. Bindings are poor and rapidly
The records are not, as required by the statute, open to the
public and convenient for examination and reference. The
clerks are not properly compensated by the town for the care
of them, some receiving nothing, some charging a rate by the
day or hour for the time spent in making the record, and some
having a salary, but none but the very few who, usually holding
some other town office, keep office hours, are paid enough
to make it reasonable to expect them to take time from their
main occupations to give to persons desiring to consult the
records. The town will not vote a sufficient amount to main-
tain a town office, the citizens accommodating themselves to
circumstances when having occasion to consult the clerks or the
record, and not deeming it necessary or equitable to pay for
the accommodation of others. Perhaps it is nearer the fact to
say that the citizens know and care little about the records,
1902.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT — No. 52. 18
but know that the clerk never has been paid but a paltry -urn
under the lax system which has prevailed, and do not know-
that every year more and more is required of him for which be
should be paid.
No fees are prescribed or can be demanded for consulting
the records, which, however, must be done under the super-
vision of the clerk, who is liable to a penalty for allowing it to
be done otherwise. Keasonable fees for copies can be charged,
but the time spent in searching unindexed, mutilated, and al-
most illegible records in order to make copies must be so long
that an estimate of the cost discourages the inquirer, who makes
his own search, taking the clerk's time without compensation ;
or if a copy is sent with a reasonable charge no fee is remitted.
In a public record office all these conditions would he
changed. The building would be absolutely fireproof, and
under proper rules fire within would be an impossibility.
Decay of the records would cease, and all mutilated ones would
be bound on the premises. Eecords and papers would be as-
sorted and classified and indexes made. Copying would be
done by experts and properly attested, and printing could be
With this accomplished the records would for the first time
be available, and a particular record pertaining to any person,
or any matter, in any part of the State, could be seen, or an
attested copy easily procured for a small fee. Long journeys
to find what does not exist, or is recorded elsewhere, need no
longer be made.
A large majority of the people have little appreciation of the
value of the records, thinking their protection is for the satis-
faction of persons interested in genealogy. As it has seemed
necessary to require since 1639 a record to be kept of every
birth, marriage, and death, it would seem equally necessary
that the record be preserved. But granting that these records
are only for the gratification of a few, there are matters of all
sorts recorded in the records of the towns which affect the
rights of individuals, corporations, towns, cities, counties, and
the State. Town boundaries ; locations of highways ; allot-
ments of land to proprietors which have descended to heirs,
without deeding or record of transfer ; rights of way : riparian
14: PUBLIC EECOKDS. [Jan.
rights ; parish rights, and duties to the town ; pauper settle-
ments ; and many other matters recorded are subjects of costly
litigation, which could be easily and amicably settled.
The cost to the towns and the State of deciding pauper set-
tlements is a considerable annual sum. Towns attempt to fix
the support of paupers on each other, or combine to fix it upon
the State. Much of this cost could be saved if the records
were accessible and indexed, as the same quarrels have been
fought out with other boards of overseers, and settlements le-
gally established. Under present conditions no one knows
whether a record exists or where it can be found, but if, acting
on assumption, search in the dilapidated, unindexed records is
attempted, it is long and expensive.
Some plan for relieving the counties, cities, and towns of the
accumulation of papers must be formulated before many years,
but the destruction of papers should be carefully supervised.
In the towns there are many important reports among the files,
often accompanied with plans, which are only briefly alluded
to in the records, and constitute the only record. There are
also papers not actually part of the files, and which the town is
not required to keep, part of which are of general interest and
would contribute to the history of the Commonwealth. These
could be properly examined in a public record office, and
either their destruction ordered, or preservation secured, under
some such system as prevails in the English Public Record
A national public record office has been advised by the sec-
retaries of some of the departments at Washington, and has the
approval of leading members of Congress. The suggestion is
each year more and more frequently made, both in public and
to the commissioner, that such an office be established in this
State, otherwise the subject would not have been treated at
Reports of the Commissioner .
An increase of five hundred copies in the number of the
annual reports is recommended. In view of the apparently
proper desire to reduce the amount of public printing this rec-
ommendation is made with some hesitancy, but the increased
number is necessary to supply the demand of many of the re-
1902.] PUBLIC DOCUMENT-. No. 52. 15
cording officers, and to furnish copies to others who would be
much better informed in regard to the law and their duties if
they had them at hand.
The following volumes of town records have been published
during the year : —
Cambridge. The Records of the Town of Cambridge (formerly
Newtowne), Massachusetts, 1630-1703. The Records of the Town
Meeting, and of the Selectmen, comprising all of the First Volume of
Records, and being Volume II. of the printed records of the town.
Printed by order of the city council under the direction of the city
clerk. Cambridge, 1901.
Fitchburg. The Old Records of the Town of Fitchburg Massa-
chusetts. A copy of a portion of the records contained in Volume
III., pages 1 to 270, inclusive, being Volume Four of the printed
records of the town. Compiled by Walter A. Davis, City Clerk.
Watertown. Watertown Records, comprising the Third Book of
Town Proceedings and the Second Book of Births, Marriages, and
Deaths to the end of 1737, also Plan and Register of Burials in
Arlington Street Burying Ground. Prepared for publication by the
Historical Society. Watertown, Mass., 1900.
Weston. Town of Weston. Births, Deaths, and Marriages,
1707-1850. 1703— Gravestones — 1900. Church Records, 1709-
1825. Appendix and Addenda, Cent Society, Gleanings from the
Town Files, Bits of Genealogy, Errors, Indexes, etc. Edited by
Mary Frances Peirce. Boston, 1901.
ROBERT T. SWAN,
INDEX TO SUBJECTS.
Terms of City Clerks, 3, 4
Terms of Town Clerks, 4, 5
Misplaced Records, '. . 7-9
Public Record Office, 11-14
Reports of the Commissioner, 14, 15